The following is a mini-interlude focused on Percival, from the Crossroads Committee, and his reasoning for not joining the Atherby Clan with several of his fellow Knights of the Round Table.
The knife swept to the left, dipped down, then went back to swipe out twice. For a man who had lived for fifteen hundred years by that point, it was all a mechanical motion. The wars he had experienced, the battles he had fought, the men and women he had killed with that same simple motion, were incalculable. Between each swipe of the blade, there was a brief pause before it repeated. The knife slid to the left, dipped down, then went back with two quick, practiced swipes.
In this case, however, the substance glistening upon the gleaming silvery blade was not blood. It was mayonnaise. And the pause between each swipe of the blade across two pieces of fluffy white bread was not to allow a body to fall so that another threat could take its place. Instead, it was a pause while the man’s right hand plucked a single slice of lunch meat from the tray, dropped it neatly on the just-mayo’d bread, then took a cheese slice, added it over the meat, and then flipped the second piece of bread on top, closing the paltry, yet edible sandwich.
Each sandwich, once completed, was added quickly onto an orange, brown, or green tray that already had a few chips, an apple or orange, and a small pint of milk or juice. The completed tray was then pushed down the line so that another could take its place, waiting for its sandwich.
“Yo, Percy!” The woman at the front of the line, loading empty trays into position, raised her hand for attention. “How’re we doing on meat down there? We need to switch to peanut butter yet?”
Shaken from his inner musings, the man who had, many centuries before, stood alongside Arthur Pendragon as a Knight of the Round Table cast his gaze briefly around the room as he turned to look over to the woman. The soup kitchen (still called that despite the fact that they were serving sandwiches that day rather than actual soup) was packed. There were over a hundred people already sitting at the tables, hurriedly eating the food they had been given. And the line of more picking up trays or waiting to do so stretched back out of the building and down the block. It would take an hour just to make sure everyone in line was given a tray and at least a couple minutes to sit and eat their food before being shoved back out into the streets that many of them literally lived in.
“Nope,” Percival answered simply, swiping mayonnaise across another two slices of bread that his other hand had automatically yanked from the bag. “There’s still another couple packages of the stuff down here.” With his foot, he lightly kicked the cardboard box behind the counter. “Should be good for now.”
With a nod, the woman turned back to address a question from the next person in line to be fed. The man himself wore a clean suit that might have made some people question his place in a line for those who couldn’t afford to feed themselves. But looking just a little bit closer would reveal that the suit was threadbare and stained in a couple of spots, taken from the rack at one of the local thrift and charity stores. The man’s hair was longer than was strictly professional, and not quite as clean and healthy as most who would have been in the sort of work that required wearing a suit. And rather than dress shoes, he wore dark, yet beaten up sneakers.
He had obviously been out looking for a job, trying to dress up as best as he could. Yet judging from the dejected look on the man’s face as he lay his tray on the counter and asked the woman if there were any oranges left, the job search hadn’t gone very well.
As the woman noted the look on the man’s face and, clearly realizing that he needed something to go right, reached under the counter to take one of the oranges from the box there, Percival took the moment to watch her.
Sonia Lesley was thirty-two years old, a blonde woman who was maybe just a little overweight, but was working hard to keep it under control. She owned a bookstore two blocks away as well as a small pizza parlor several streets over, but spent most of her time here, at the soup kitchen that she and a couple of the other business owners in the neighborhood had set up a couple years earlier. She cared deeply for the homeless and less fortunate, putting not only most of her time, but a large portion of the profits from her businesses into getting them what they needed.
And she was his descendant. His twenty-two greats-granddaughter, in fact. Twenty-four generations of descendants, and Percival had made it a point to watch over each and every one of them. He got to know them, first as himself, and later as a distant relative, then a friend, and eventually… as little more than a stranger. He got to know them as best as he could, spending time around his family while keeping them out of the line of fire from those who would try to use them against him.
Perhaps he should have left them alone entirely. But he couldn’t bring himself to do that. So he compromised, allowing himself the occasional visit like this. Sonia knew his name (though not who he really was, of course), but as far as she was aware, he was just a man who liked to volunteer at her soup kitchen.
It was safer that way. The kind of enemies that he had, the beings who would love nothing more than to get at him through his family…
That was one of the reasons that Percival had declined the invitation from his brothers to join their clan that was meant to uphold the traditions and intentions of Arthur. The last thing that he wanted was for the people he cared about, his family, to be caught up in a literally endless war.
He’d seen what that did to the families of others that he cared about, what it had done to Arthur’s family. Especially at the end, when Arthur had been forced to… make the decision that he had made.
Percy didn’t want that for his family. He wanted them to live their lives without worrying about monsters. So he hadn’t taken them into the clan that Sir Bedivere–then calling himself Arthur-By–had set up.
Sir Bedivere. The Knights of the Round Table, or just knights in general, tended to confuse people who investigated the legend of King Arthur. The… disconnect between their apparent existence as early as 500 AD conflicted with the fact that true knights themselves didn’t exist until hundreds of years later. As did the fact that the tales of their actions seemed to place their existence anywhere within that time frame.
It was almost as if they had truly lived that long, for hundreds of years, before Arthur’s… departure had put an end to such things.
And as for the existence of their knighthood before such a thing existed, it was true that they had been knights hundreds of years before they should have been. Or, more accurately, hundreds of years before the practice had been adopted on Earth. One of Arthur’s dearest friends, the one he called Nimue, had been from a place far from this planet. It was she who had introduced the concept of knighthood to the growing king, and had helped him select the first of those who would become the Knights of the Round Table.
Percy could, of course, have joined the Arthur-By clan on his own, despite having no family to bring with him (or at least none that he was willing to drag into it). He would have been welcomed there. Yet he had declined that as well, for more than one reason. First, after seeing what he had seen, Percival had wanted to be on his own for awhile. The dissolution of their group, the loss of Arthur, all of it had made him need to… journey, find himself, discover his purpose.
And when Hieronymus Bosch had approached him along with the group he was gathering, when he had presented his own power and shown Percival what he could do… well, there was no more question. The last words that Arthur had spoken to him, before… the end, were that Percival would know what to do with himself once he found ‘the light’, and that he should stay with it when he did. The light. Percy had believed that the man was speaking metaphorically. But then Bosch had shown his machine… the light that it created when doing its work.
Arthur had known. Somehow, someway, he had known. And from that point, Percy knew that he belonged there. At some point in the future, his presence was going to be needed. So he placed himself in the then-fledgling group, gradually working his way up to his current position. And he waited… for what, he didn’t know. But it would come. Arthur had a purpose in mind when he had told Percival to stay with the light.
Eventually, he would find out what that purpose was.
And, of course, going from being a Natural Manticore-Heretic to the kind that Bosch’s machine had created had been… quite an experience in and of itself.
Passing his sandwich-making duties to the next person then, Percy stepped over to where Sonia was. Keeping his voice low, he asked, “The guy in the suit, how’s he doing?”
The woman glanced his way, then looked toward the distant table where the lone figure sat despondently picking at his food. “Lawrence? Poor guy. I really thought he had this job sewn up. Turns out, one of the higher assholes put the kibosh on it. Didn’t want to lower company value by taking in someone off the street, or some bullshit. Asshole.”
Pausing, Percy glanced that way before asking, “What does he do? What job was he going for?”
Sonia shook her head with a sigh. “Accountant. He’s been trying to get into one of these places for a year now, ever since his old place went under. No one’s biting.” She glanced to him then, squinting. “Why?”
“Might have someone he can call,” Percy replied. “We’ll see.” He stepped away then, wanting to downplay his own involvement as much as possible. With a brief glance around then, he focused for a moment, until all the sounds in the soup kitchen went silent. No one spoke, no one moved, even the fly that had been buzzing past his face was frozen in mid-air.
He had stopped time in a bubble within the building.
Walking across the room, Percival approached the suited man. Carefully, he reached into the pockets, searching until he found a folded up bit of paper. Resume. Unfolding it, he scanned the contents briefly, then stepped back before releasing his power.
Time resumed. For a half-second, people noticed his sudden transportation from one end of the room to the other. Then the Bystander Effect kicked in, and they forgot what they had seen, going back to their work and food.
“Excuse me, uh, sir?” Percy started, getting the man’s attention. When the guy turned, he held up the resume. “I think you dropped this.”
“Huh?” Lawrence blinked, then quickly took the paper. “Oh, thanks,” he mumbled, looking like he was just about ready to toss the thing in the trash himself.
“Sorry,” Percy started. “This might be overstepping, but I saw that you’ve got experience as an accountant. I’ve got a friend who’s looking for a new payroll clerk. Any chance he might steal you away from whatever you’ve got lined up already?”
The man’s mouth opened and shut a couple times, something clearly catching in his throat. “Y-you don’t have to–that’s not…”
“Don’t have to?” Percy echoed before chuckling. “Please, you’ll be doing me a favor just for giving him a call. He will not shut up about needing to find somebody.” From his pocket, he withdrew a pen, gesturing to the resume. “You mind if I give you his number?”
When Lawrence nodded, he scribbled down a phone number. It was one of twenty that led to his own phones. When Lawrence called, Percy would appear in a different guise, using shapeshifting powers to be someone else. He would get the man set up in one of several dozen businesses that he owned in the Bystander world under various identities. He would make sure the man had a job.
It wasn’t a lot. And maybe it wasn’t the same thing as slaying monsters or saving the planet from invading aliens. It was simply ensuring that one man, one solitary person, was given a job. In the grand scheme of things, most would consider it utterly inconsequential.
But it mattered. Arthur had taught him that. Every seemingly little thing they did mattered. Making one person’s life just a little bit better mattered. It was a lesson that Percival had taken to heart. That was why he kept himself involved in the Bystander world a lot more than his colleagues generally did. He didn’t want to forget where they came from, or what they were actually fighting for.
And when the time came, he would be ready for whatever Arthur had seen when he told Percival to stay with the light.